10.8% unemployment, 6.2% inflation, and a doubling of the deficit over the previous year. Those were the cold truths that President Reagan and Republicans faced in November 1982. Yet despite this bleak economic news, and widespread predictions that Republicans would lose the Senate, they retained their 54 Senate seats and limited House losses to 27 seats, many as a result of redistricting. In 2010, the shoe could be on the other foot. President Obama and congressional Democrats could be riding out the worst recession since, at least, 1982. And Republicans will be salivating at the chance to pick up seats by tying Democrats to Obama and the economy.
So, what did Republicans do in ’81 and ’82? Among other things, Reagan and his allies kept reminding people of why they didn’t like Carter/Mondale.
Even in 1982, the economy was described as suffering from the “Carter Recession.” Every bit of bad news was assigned to the previous regime; every morsel of good news was evidence of a Reagan-led recovery.
Right. “Carter Recession” was on the lips of every Republican in D.C. in the early 1980s. As a substantive matter, the label was foolish — blaming Carter for inflation and global oil prices didn’t make sense — but the GOP needed a way to constantly remind the public (and the media) of perceived failures of the previous administration.
When Reagan’s initial round of massive tax cuts failed to produce the desired results — unemployment soared after Reagan and the GOP’s plan passed — it became all the more important to characterize Carter as the villain.
The relevance of this to the current landscape should be obvious. One of the most effective spin jobs Republicans launched, and the media embraced, this year was the notion that Democrats are not supposed to “look back” and “play the blame game” for the mess Bush/Cheney left. President Obama, we were told, was expected to fix the problems, not talk about those responsible for creating the problems.
Jeb Bush told Sean Hannity in April, “If I had one humble criticism of President Obama, it would be to stop this notion of somehow framing everything in the context of ‘Everything was bad before I got here’ and focus on his duties, which we all want him to succeed. But constantly pushing down the previous president to make yourself look good I think is a bad thing.”
Obama hadn’t been “constantly pushing down” Bush’s failures, and everything really was bad before he got there, but Dems seemed sensitive to this criticism. And the majority party, displaying their strategic wisdom, effectively responded, “We’ll show you — we’ll stop mentioning Bush altogether! So there!”
I realize there’s a limit to the public’s tolerance for shifting blame, but if the Reagan White House and its allies were throwing around “Carter Recession” quite a bit as late as 1982, shouldn’t Dems at least consider the possibility of mentioning the “Bush Recession?” Especially since it’s, you know, true?
Obama talks a great deal about the importance of taking responsibility. But there’s a reasonable case to be made that, by avoiding blame for Bush/Cheney, the president is taking too much responsibility for challenges that were almost entirely his predecessor’s fault.
Taking a step back to consider the year’s political fights, just about every single problem this administration has faced, and continues to face, stems from Bush’s failures, incompetence, and mismanagement. The moment President Obama was sworn in, he had to deal with an economy in free fall, soaring unemployment, a collapsing U.S. auto industry, a health care system in crisis, a housing crisis, a looming global warming catastrophe, two costly wars, a $1.2 trillion deficit, a $10 trillion debt, a pessimistic electorate, a Guantanamo fiasco, and a global landscape in which the United States had lost much of its global prestige.
Most of 2009 has been a debate about those who approve of the ways Obama is trying to clean up Bush’s mess and those who disapprove of the ways Obama is trying to clean up Bush’s mess. The common thread should be obvious here.
How Republicans convinced Democrats to stop even mentioning Bush’s name is one of the year’s most effective con jobs, but it’s not too late for the majority to shift back.
The former president’s name is somehow considered verboten in our political discourse. Given reality, and in the interests of accountability, isn’t it time to reintroduce the country to the reason they moved towards Democrats in the first place?